Immersed in Van Gogh

Let’s not forget that the little emotions are the great captains of our lives
and we obey them without realizing it.
– Vincent van Gogh

3D bust of the artist with light and shadows playing across his face

I spent a short while immersed in the world of Van Gogh (visiting Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience) and what I come away with is profound sense of contrasts…

-glories of nature against dark anguish of the human soul
-wholesome serenity of pastoral life against psychosis and extreme loneliness
-wonder at scientific evidence that a man who used so much color so brilliantly was likely color-blind

I stood in a dark room illuminated by his swirling sunflowers, floating bursts of fiery light. This is the flower most associated with happiness; the tortured artist loved them. His doctor-friend planted them on his grave.

I took a virtual journey from the bedroom at Arles past the bright wheatfields where crows lazily took flight, through the peaceful woods (Van Gogh loved long walks in the woods) into the village where fireflies danced around lampposts, to the riverside of the Rhone, where the stars gleamed above… the journey ended with rising into the stars and landing back in the bedroom at Arles where the floor, walls, bed, stand with pitcher and basin, straw hat, and strewn paint supplies materialized around me. I know Van Gogh’s famous quote about painting his dream but the quote that lingers is this: Let’s not forget that the little emotions are the great captains of our lives and we obey them without realizing it.

You are so right, Vincent. So right.

And so we paint our lives.

Immersed in swirling sunflowers

3D rendering of “The Vestibule,” in the Saint Paul De Mausole Asylum

Short clip: Scenes of Van Gogh’s self-portraits set to music

Relationships are the fabric

In my planner for February is this quote:

Relationships are the fabric of our lives. They should be treasured every day, but sometimes we get caught up in the stresses of life and forget to express gratitude to those we love most. How can you show more appreciation and kindness this month?

This notion of relationships as fabric captivates me. Fabric is made of woven or knitted fiber. Some fabrics are delicate. Some are strong. Fabric can tear. I remember a skirt I bought as a teenager when I started making some steady money of my own. High-waisted, flared, houndstooth, almost ankle length. Tons of fabric. It hung in rippling folds, fabulous in its 1980s way. I adored it. I was wearing the skirt, and hadn’t had it long, on the day I knelt in the floor to pick something up and inadvertently stepped on it with my high heel, which tore right through the fabric when I stood up…rrriiiiiip.

A six-inch tear in the lovely houndstooth, to my horror. I might have cried (I cannot recall) but I wasn’t ready to pitch the glorious skirt.

I brought it to my mother.

She was a seamstress who worked for a major department store. She tailored men’s suits, fitted bridal gowns (“these girls want the dresses completely remade”), and took in sewing at home. Many a night she spread fabric across the kitchen table, pinned patterns, marked and cut the cloth with sharp scissors, a rhythmic snip-snip-snip. She made several stuffed animals, like mice and precious long-eared bunnies with a wardrobe of changeable clothes. Her work was stellar; everyone said so…

“Mom, can you fix this?”

I handed her my voluminous, mutilated skirt.

She considered the rip, held it closed with her fingers, puffed on the cigarette clamped in her lips.

“I can try.”

She fixed it. Not like I’d imagined. The stitching was bulky and obvious. “I had to go over it more than once,” she explained. It looked as big as a train track to me. Like the garish stitching on the Frankenstein monster’s brow.

I loved that skirt. I’d paid too much money for it to just throw it away. Maybe I was expecting magic…

I wore it anyway, hoping the long folds in the natural draping of all that fabric would hide the ugly scar. Most people never noticed, but I knew it was there.

Relationships are the fabric of our lives.

Fabric can tear. It can be mended, but it won’t be exactly as it was before the ripping.

So it is with relationships. We wear the scars in hidden places. How much could be avoided by careful attention and mindfulness in the first place…especially if we value a relationship…

Sometimes we get caught up in the stresses of life and forget to express gratitude to those we love most. Show more appreciation and kindness…

This goes a long way in preventing the ripping, the unraveling.

In every relationship, great or small.

The thing about relationships:
they never really end. They are
with us, always within us, inextricable as the
silkworm’s thread to silk fabric,
forming the infinite intricacies of our
days, our stories, our lives
.

Photo: A Symbiotic RelationshipFouquier ॐ. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

*******

with thanks to the Slice of Life community at Two Writing Teachers
and the relationships forged by sharing our stories

Learning decay wordplay

Today on the Ethical ELA blog, teacher-librarian-poet Linda Mitchell kicks off a five-day Open Write invitation by using lists for composing poetry (read her beautiful “Wishing Well Price List” poem and other inspiring offerings here).

Now, I am a notorious list-maker, so much so that my husband once asked: “What are you writing now?”

To which I replied, absently, while hunched over a scrap of paper: “A list.”

“ANOTHER list? For what?”

I hesitated to confess, but I did, in a decidedly small voice … “A list of lists I have to make.”

So. If I am going to base a poem on one of my myriad lists, I must choose quickly or I’ll never begin.

The first thing I turned to in my scrawly notebook idea-keeper was a list of rhyming words based on the phrase “learning decay.” I heard a fellow educator use it recently, expressing concern for children returning to school in the fall after having been out for five months (or longer) due to COVID-19. That idea has been sitting dormant … maybe waiting for just this moment, this prompt, as a lens to lend focus. What can I make of this list? What would help prevent “learning decay” for kids? For ANYONE? For me the answer is always twofold: Read. Write. Always.

One last thing: Kids need to know that writing is more than an assignment and generally hateful chore. They can do it anywhere, anytime, about anything. There are no limits, only endless discoveries. A notebook is a gateway for making sense of the world and discovering what you think and feel … a safe haven, a springboard, a sounding board, a lifeline, a reliquary for housing fragile new ideas, precious fragments of self. It can be on paper. On a screen. It can be a recording. A drawing. Any means of capturing thoughts, impressions, expressions. I use multiple mediums, myself. You’re reading one now. To me, moments spent writing are never wasted; growth is inevitable.

Here’s my rather rapid-fire poem based on “learning decay” and the list of rhyming words in my notebook:


Learning decay?
No, not today.
Strive to allay.
So invite play:
a word ballet,
a thought bouquet.
True soul portray,
not self-betray.
Notebook away,
the cost defray –
Recoup the day.